Diversity and Harmony
Story and Pictures by THANIN WEERADET
Bangkok Post, April 15, 2004
Explore the temples and mosques by pedalling backroads of Min Buri and Nong Chok
Min Buri and Nong Chok are on the outskirts of Bangkok and full of green farmland. Mosques lie side by side Buddhist temples. Canals make an intricate web of waterways that feed the farms. Bicycling through the backroads of these two districts is a revelation that can't be savoured plying the main roads, as SpiceRoads would affirm.
For some reason or the other, to me, Min Buri and Nong Chok have always seemed far from the capital city. If I hadn't been biking, I would have missed some fascinating characteristics that lie along the route. I had subscribed to SpiceRoads' day-long tour to Min Buri and Nong Chok even though it was mid-March and the sun beating down relentlessly, and looking forward to explore the two less known districts of Bangkok.
A SpiceRoads van picked us up in central Bangkok and delivered us in a village in Min Buri early in the morning. We got off in front of a Muslim primary school that had an imposing mosque by the Khlong Saen Saep canal. There's no point in pedalling all the way there from Bangkok. We needed to save our energy for activities later in the day.
School was about to start. We saw kids in school uniform and traditional Muslim cap marching to the classroom. Our presence caught their attention. Woody, our guide, led us to a pier pleasantly shaded by a canopy of fig trees so old that their roots hung from branches. The canal where we're standing was not the Khlong Saen Saep we usually think of, but a silt-free waterway littered with water hyacinth. Off the pier a school of fat Pla Sawai surfaced in frenzy as Woody threw a handful of fish food.
I sign posted there told that King Rama V stopped at the Kamalulislam Mosque in 1907 during a royal visit. There is no record about the mosque's origin, but it's generally accepted that it's built more than 120 years ago. On stepping inside, the guide pointed to the original section of the floor tile and it bore marks of its old age.
From the mosque we set out on our bikes and pedalled on an elevated road only a metre wide that ran parallel to the canal. It was a thrilling ride. Imagine driving on a narrow road with ravines on both sides. The feeling was comparable, but the consequence of making a mistake unthinkable. The road lead past residences along the canal and I dared not look sideways for the fear of going all the way down. At some stretches, we had to go slow through hanging vegetation. Riding on the narrow road without side walls was not easy, as a young girl in our group found out. She was last to complete the three-kilometre stretch of the elevated road. We were relieved that no one had gone overboard.
We crossed the canal and gathered in a village preparing to pedal past farmlands. By now it's warmer. Since it's March, the mango trees were full of fruits. We took a turn to go on the main road but shortly afterward took another one to return to the backroad. Lush paddy fields bore rice gain. Paddy plants swayed with the breeze. The bleeting of goats could be heard in the distance. I was completely mesmerised by the green landscape, more so because this place was part of Bangkok. That Bangkok had rice fields and farms, had never occured to me before. If I had travelled by car, I wouldn't have been able to see the green side of this Bangkok suburb.
We pedalled on a gravel road for some time and then stopped for refreshments at Wat Sam Ngam. From there we proceeded, crossing a main road and an urban community to Wat Phuet Udomphon temple situated by the bank of another canal. We parked our bikes in the shade and took the time to explore the temple. It's strange for it had crude-looking stucco sculptures representing figures from the netherworld. They were the works of the temple's former abbot created to teach people to fear punishment for deeds that are sinful. In the basement underneath the chapel we walked past several bizarre-looking figures that bore didactic messages for the unsuspecting visitor. To hear the message you have to slot in a coin. It's a shrewd way of raising donation for the temple. As the message is relayed the figures move, much to the amusement of visitors.
We stopped for lunch at the temple and recharge our batteries. In the afternoon we resumed our excursion on a road that ran along Rangsit Khlong 13. It was fascinating biking under the shade of trees past rural homes and green vegetation. We rested briefly under a mango tree and set out again. All along, Woody proved adept at befriending dogs, clearly not happy with the presence of us strangers.
The sun was its zenith . After an hour we reached Nong Chok market and hauled our bikes on to the SpiceRoads van that had discreetly followed from the start. My limbs were stiff. From here on it would mark the start of another journey - by a long-tailed boat.
The boat roared off in the same canal as we had set out in the morning. Exhausted, we laid back in boat the enjoying the view of the rural setting: an exquisite mosque in a lush surrounding, and a little further up a shimmering Buddhist temple. Our guide said: "Min Buri and Nong Chok have large Muslim communities, but there is no clash of religions here."
The stifling afternoon heat drove local residents and two Rottweilers to the canal for a swim. The dogs barked as our boat passed them. When we got back to the school, the kids were preparing to go home. So were we, heading back to Bangkok in the SpiceRoads van.